When the need for an attorney suddenly arises, it can be overwhelming and hard to know where to begin. Legal matters can be stressful, but finding representation shouldn’t be. As a partner at a law firm, I have five suggestions for those looking to hire a lawyer for the first time:
1. Reach out to family and friends.
The first strategy for finding an attorney is to use your social connections. Ask friends, family members and colleagues for good recommendations. Be clear in what you need. Are you looking for a long-term attorney who can assist you now and in the future, or is this a one-time hire? If it’s the former, you’ll want to know how long your connection has known them for and the range of issues with which the attorney has assisted.
More importantly, you’ll want to specify what kind of lawyer you need. Are you looking for help with a real estate transaction? If so, an immigration attorney your uncle knows likely won’t be much help. Criminal defense, intellectual property, tax and litigation are all examples of legal categories you should use to narrow down your search.
2. Ask lawyers for referrals.
The legal community can be quite insular, and lawyers often attend events together, meet in court and have a network of law school peers with whom they associate. Because of this, it can be helpful to ask a trusted attorney for recommendations when looking for representation outside their area of practice.
If you do not have a lawyer on speed dial, you can use a family member or friend’s recommendation to expand your search. Even if their lawyer does not practice the type of law you require, you can still reach out to them for guidance. Introduce yourself, explain how you found them and who referred you, and ask whether they can look at your case or recommend an attorney who can.
3. Use LinkedIn search features.
LinkedIn is a great place to search for an attorney. You can use keywords (e.g. “criminal defense”) to filter the results. Be sure to specify your location as well: At a minimum, the attorney must have passed your state’s bar exam. Logistically, however, you will likely want someone who works either in or close to your city.
Once you have found a contender, check for any testimonials from past clients and colleagues, look at their work and education history, and see what other relevant experience they might have. Most LinkedIn profiles will include a URL to their firm’s website. From there, you will find instructions on how to contact them.
4. Browse attorney databases.
Online attorney databases can help get you started in your search. Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, for example, offers a convenient tool that filters results by practice area, state and city. Their attorney profiles provide details on education history and past work experience. Some also include client reviews and testimonials. These are excellent resources for researching, comparing and contacting attorneys who might be a good fit for you.
For those in need of low-cost or free legal assistance, the Legal Services Corporation can direct you to one of the many legal aid organizations they fund. There are many lawyers eager to help those facing financial hardship; this resource, and those like it, simplify the search for these lawyers and can help you find the quality representation you deserve.
5. Have a backup.
Finally, have a backup option (or two). As in any profession, lawyers get booked up, fall ill and take vacation days. If you don’t get a response from a particular attorney or law firm, have another on-deck that you can contact, especially if your concern is time-sensitive.
For most people, a combination of these strategies will yield the best results. Remember that while finding an attorney can be stressful and time-consuming, it doesn’t have to be. By effectively leveraging your resources; quality representation can be found quickly and painlessly.